Jesus: Praying for us on earth and now from heaven

Please read John 17: 6-19 and then pray; Most loving and compassionate God, we pray that you will sanctify us through your truth; your word is truth, and we praise you for it. Amen!

This week I have been thinking deeply about the value of prayer. For me, prayer is one of the greatest treasures that God has given to his people, along with the word of God. I give heartfelt thanks for the fact that we can enter the very presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and lay at the throne of God, all our praise, thanks, cares, and burdens. How much do you value the gift of prayer?

When I make pastoral visits, I rarely leave a home without praying for the person I have visited.  It is a great privilege to be able to pray with them. For most people I visit, the prayers at the end of the visit are the most important part of our time together. Pastoral prayer is valued and deeply appreciated. Sometimes, as was the case this week, someone I visit will also pray for me. This week John Flemons prayed for me after I had I lifted him and Olive up to God in prayer. John’s prayer was one of the highlights of this last week. I believe praying for someone whilst in their presence, is one of the greatest acts of love and kindness that can be shown to them. What do you think? Who might you pray with this coming week?

Today we are going to think about something that should take our breath away as Christians. We are going to consider how the Lord Jesus prays for us. It is one thing to have a dear Christian brother or sister praying for us, but to have the Son of God interceding for us is just astonishing, and one of the most comforting and consoling blessings we possess in the Christian life.

The precious content in John 17 presents us with an open window into the prayer life and concerns of Jesus Christ the Son of God. He is now on the brink of facing Calvary. He has shared bread and wine with his closest disciples. Judas has left their company. The disciples have been taught about the coming of the Holy Spirit, something we will contemplate next week at Pentecost. In the previous chapter to this, Jesus speaks of two realities – the coming of the Spirit who will replace Him as ever- present Counsellor and Companion (16:7), and the return of Jesus to heaven and to his Father (16:17). It seems that there is now no more to teach (17:1) – so Jesus turns to prayer, and the disciples must have heard what was upon their Lord’s heart and mind as they listened in on his conversation with the Father.

What was upon the Lord’s heart and mind at that moment and in that space in the upper room? A little later in Gethsemane, His Father’s will would be uppermost in his deeply troubled mind. Not my will but yours he would pray, and as he prayed, he would shed huge drops of sweat like blood. The following day Jesus would shed real blood. But what was upon his heart and mind now at the end of this time of intimate fellowship with his disciples? We can break down this amazing prayer of Jesus into three sections. They are;

  • The shortest section (1-5) in which Jesus prays for himself.
  • The largest section (6-19) in which Jesus prays for his disciples (now 11) but by extension prays for all disciples who will follow.
  • The final section (20-26) features Jesus’s pray just for those who will become disciples in the future – for those “who will believe through the message of the apostles.” (20)

We are going to focus on the way Jesus prayed for his beloved disciples and the way he prayed for us, but we need to pause briefly and consider how Jesus prayed for himself, and the ways in which he describes his disciples.

Firstly, we are given an insight into what prayer is from Jesus’s words and actions. We are told that Jesus “looked toward heaven” and then addressed God as “Father.” Isn’t that a beautiful and succinct way to describe and understand prayer? Prayer is looking toward heaven itself and entering the presence of the Father with everything that is upon our mind. Our eyes and hearts are turned upwards toward heaven. Our Father in heaven is indeed how the Lord’s prayer begins. Prayer is a celebration of the Fatherhood of God and our adoption into his family as his beloved children. Prayer is therefore God’s children communing with “Abba” Father. (Romans 8:15-16)

Jesus then offers himself to his Father through his prayer. He humbly acknowledges that “the time” has finally arrived for him to be glorified alongside his Father through the cross, through all that is finally about to take place. He acknowledges that His Father has given him all authority to bestow eternal life upon those the Father has given to him. And Jesus finally offers his completed earthly pilgrimage to His Father, and looks forward to sharing once again in the glory which He and His Father previously shared together “before the world began.”  Jesus is coming home. He will soon be back in heaven with His Father, and sharing all the glory.

Jesus is then very specific about who is praying for – namely his disciples. He could not be clearer for in v 9 he prays; I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. And so, it must surely be of interest to us as to how Jesus himself describes his disciples in his prayer to His Father. This is worthy of note and we must think about its application to us. Here are the ways Jesus describes his true followers – his followers then and now. Jesus says disciples are;

  • Those who have been given to Jesus by the Father. (v 2, 6, 9)
  • Those who have received and know eternal life. (v 3)
  • Those to whom Jesus has revealed the Father. (v 6)
  • Those who know and believe all that Jesus has given them is from God. (v 7)
  • Those who with certainty know that Jesus is from God, from heaven, heaven-sent. (v 8)
  • Those who have been separated from the world. (v 9, 14)

Do you recognise those truths just outlined (and listed above) in your own life? This is the reality for those who are Jesus’s disciples, the one’s He passionately prays for, the ones who possess and retain a special place in his heart and prayers.

So, what does Jesus ask the Father to do for his disciples? What are the main elements of his prayer for his disciples then and now? What is he concerned about at the end of his earthly life?

  • The main concern Jesus had for the 11 and for us is protection from evil. This of course comes across in the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray which we refer to as the Lord’s prayer – And deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13). Jesus asks the Father to protect those who the Father has given to him. This is spoken of in verses 11 and 15. Jesus pleads that his followers will be protected from evil and the evil one by the superior power of God’s great Name. That indeed is a mighty shield of defence against the devil. It is clear from all Jesus’s final teaching to his followers, and now through this prayer – that disciples are going to face hostility in the world – the same hostility that Jesus himself faced and will face as he is arrested, tortured, and crucified. When Christians face hostility, and they do, and always will do until Jesus returns, they are held in prayer and through prayer by the Son of God himself. All who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom are in His thoughts and prayers. This has always been an enormous comfort to the suffering Church in all ages! It surely is now.
  • The second element of Jesus’s final prayer concerns the vital issue of unity and oneness among all disciples. This has become the element in this great prayer that has been most highlighted by the ecumenical movement of which we are a part. (v 11, 23) But we must note that this unity and oneness is first and foremost a very deep and precious spiritual unity and bond which emanates from each disciple’s own personal relationship with the Father and the Son. Just as the Father and Son are one and in complete unity, so the Church which arises from the call of the Father and the Son, must have unity with God as its core value. That deep spiritual unity should then reveal itself through a visible unity – so unique – that the world will see the truth that is in Jesus who is the Son of God, and who wins this unity by his death. May this unity be revealed in and through our Church today. It starts at a deep spiritual level as we all embrace Christ and receive the Holy Spirit – but it must be then be revealed to the world through our life together in the Spirit and in the love of Jesus.
  • Thirdly, Jesus prays that his disciples will know complete joy even amid a hostile, threatening and turbulent world. (Read v 13) This joy is the joy of knowing Jesus and eternal life, and it is a joy that is based solidly on a platform of Joy in the bible is always built upon peace. Joy and peace are twins. We cannot experience deep and lasting joy without already knowing deep and real peace – peace with the Father and the Son. Joy is not about constantly having a smile upon your face; it is about having Jesus in your heart through the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit sent from the Father and the Son. This is an abiding joy which is founded upon by peace with God through Jesus. (Romans 5:1-2)
  • And the final thing Jesus prays for is the sanctification of his disciples. (Read 16-18) Jesus prays that the disciples will be kept holy to the end. He prays that his disciples will grow in their resemblance of Him and his nature. He is praying that Christians will be light in a very dark and decaying world in which they remain and serve. They are not taken out of the world. He is praying that his chosen ones will remain faithful and true, that they will persevere in faith, hope, and love until he returns. He wants them to be like him in the world, that the world may be turned toward God. Sanctification! Set apart for God’s glory as Jesus himself was!

The Lord Jesus prayed for our protection, our unity, our joy, and our holiness. That is what was upon his heart as he went forth to die for us all upon the cross. However, I must mention one other astounding and significant biblical truth – and that is this: Yes, Jesus prayed for us on earth in that upper room before he faced the cross and bled for our sins. But he now prays for us forever from the throne of heaven.

What Jesus started here on earth before he died on the cross as outlined in John 17, he now continues as he lives forever in the glory of the Father’s company. We are in that period of the Christian year when we celebrate with great joy the ascension and reception of Jesus back into heaven. We celebrate the fact that He is now exalted to the right hand of the Father and sharing all the glory, honour, and praise from angels and from His redeemed people. All authority is His – both in heaven and on earth. And from this position of authority, power, acclaim, and majesty, He continually pours forth intercessions for His disciples – for the likes of you and I! One of the things Jesus never stops doing is praying for the saints, his people, the sheep of his pasture. Jesus now exercises a great and mighty intercessory ministry on behalf of every disciple. He is praying for us right now! He is our risen and glorified heavenly intercessor and advocate. (1 John 2:1)

In the NT book of Hebrews, the author emphasises the importance of Jesus’s high priestly ministry on behalf of his people. In the OT, the ministry of the priests revolved around two things – making sacrifices for atonement with God and intercession for the people. Atonement and intercession. Jesus is now the eternal great High Priest – who gave his own life as the one all sufficient, never to be repeated sacrifice for the sins of his people. But Jesus also exercises His High Priestly ministry through his ongoing, never-failing intercession for his people. (Read Hebrews 7: 23-28)

He lives to intercede for them – for us!

As the apostle Paul also strongly affirms in Romans. (Read Romans 8: 31-34)

Paul states with conviction that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. Hallelujah! What Jesus began on earth in an upper room, He is continuing for all eternity. And His prayers are powerful! They are always centred on the bulls-eye of God’s perfect and holy will. The are fortified by and with all the authority and power of God contained in heaven and on earth. Who or what can withstand the praying power of the Son of God? What evil can stand up against the intercession of the Holy One, who is exalted high above all, who has the name above all names, who is the Alpha and the Omega, who is the Lord God Almighty? (Psalm 24: 7-10) Jesus does not now look up to heaven as we are told he did in John 17, He looks down from heaven, from His throne of majesty and power, and prays over all His saints, every single one of them wherever they are in the world.

I believe this doctrine of the intercession of Christ should give us comfort and consolation like no other. I expressed at the beginning of this sermon, the way I value prayer and people praying for me as they sit or stand next to me. But what am I to make of the fact that Jesus Christ – my Saviour and Lord – my Rock and my Redeemer – prays for me every moment of every day of my life as I serve Him. He prays for me in the highs and lows of life. He prays for me when I am laughing and when I am sobbing. He intercedes for me when my heart is full of joy or broken with sorrow. This comforts me more than anything? Does it not comfort and bless you today? It most certainly should!

And He prays that we might do his will. Jesus prays and pours out his grace and Spirit upon us to see to it that we do the tasks he calls us to do. He prays for our peace and joy. He prays for our co-operation and relationship with all the other saints in His Church. He intercedes for our part in the unity of His people. And He prays for our sanctification – that we will serve Him to the end – that we will be kept by the power of His Name – that we will be presented before Him without spot or blemish or wrinkle – but holy and transformed and ready to be finally glorified. Friends, we will not fail or fall, because Christ has called us and He will continually pray for us and for our sanctification and glorification. Do you think His prayers will not be answered? They certainly will! This should give us enormous comfort, courage, and hope in all that we face and will face in the future.

He always lives to intercede for us! The great Scottish evangelist and minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said this – and with this I end;

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

And now unto God, Father, Son, and Spirit – be all the glory, honour, power, and praise! Amen!

(Revd Peter J Clarkson 12.5.24)